USA – Growing support for FDA mifepristone policy, Black clergy reframing their approach on abortion with their congregations, pro-choice state governments stockpiling mifepristone

Support growing for maintaining the US Food & Drug Administration policy on mifepristone 

The question of whether and how the ruling of a Texas federal district judge should be dealt with, which banned use of mifepristone for abortions — despite the pill having been approved by the US Food & Drug Administration 20 years ago — has become a major news story in the USA. The irony of this is that a final ruling on this may have to come from the Supreme Court, whose majority’s anti-abortion political opinions far outweigh their scientific knowledge of whether a medication is safe and efficacious or not. The consequence of opening a door to future challenges to FDA decisions has begun to make headlines.

As of 11 April 2023, more than 500 people, including many pharmaceutical executives, have signed a letter condemning a federal judge’s decision to overturn US Food and Drug Administration (FDA) approval of the abortion drug mifepristone. The document supports the FDA’s authority to regulate medicines and calls for the reversal of the ruling. By ignoring “decades of scientific evidence”, the decision creates a dangerous precedent that puts the approval of all drugs at risk, the letter says.

To find out what the public think, CBS News carried out a survey of 2,065 US adults on 12-14 April 2023. They found that 69% of supporters of abortion rights thought President Biden should discount any final high court decision banning mifepristone. When broken down into political party affiliation, the poll showed that 84% of Democrats surveyed said mifepristone should continue to be available in pro-abortion states, as did 72% of self-identified independents, and as many as 46% of Republicans. Those views line up with those of New York Democratic member of the House of Representatives Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, a strong abortion rights supporter, who has also urged the Biden administration to defy the Texas judge’s ruling.

Meanwhile, Supreme Court Justice Samuel Alito, the same one who wrote the text of the death warrant for Roe v. Wade, issued a temporary stay of the Texas court ruling; allowing mifepristone to continue to be sold, but only with greatly restricted circumstances and in states where abortion is legal, and only until midnight on 19 April while the Supreme Court considers lower court decisions.

Abortion rights supporters around the country and in the nation’s capital held rallies on 15-16 April 2023 against the decision by the Texas judge to reverse the FDA’s approval of mifepristone. (To be continued)

SOURCES: Nature, by Mariana Lenharo, 11 April 2023 ; NY Post, by Carl Campanile, 16 April 2023 ; BMJ 2023;381:p864 ; NPR, by Kaitlyn Radde, 15 April 2023 + PHOTO (snippet from) by Andrew Caballero-Reynolds/AFP via Getty Images

How Black clergy are reframing their approach on abortion with their congregations

Even as some of the largest Black denominations oppose abortion, Black clergy face the reality that their congregations are disproportionately affected by lack of access to reproductive health services.

For the Rev. Irene Prince, discussions around reproductive choice start in Bible study. As pastor of Mount Olive AME Church in Emporia, Kansas, Prince has taught on the biblical concept of free will in connection with choice — a connection she hopes will move her congregation to “demonstrate the love of God” by being kinder and not passing judgment on how people decide to live their lives.

“We don’t have to be the keepers of behavior and the purveyors of what is supposed to be holy. That’s God’s realm. I have no heaven or hell to put anybody in,” said Prince, who is also trying to address reproductive issues by inviting health professionals and advocates to speak to her predominantly Black congregation.

While white evangelicals have led anti-abortion movements and publicly celebrated the US Supreme Court’s decision overturning Roe v. Wade last June, responses from within the Black church have been more mixed and muted. A recent Pew Research survey found that 66% of Black Protestants believe abortion should be legal or mostly legal in all cases — a sharp contrast to the 74% of white evangelicals who believe it should be illegal or mostly illegal in all cases.

Not all clergy feel theologically equipped to broach the topic of reproductive health, said the Rev. Madison Shockley, former member of the Planned Parenthood Clergy Advocacy Board and pastor at Pilgrim United Church of Christ in Carlsbad, California. In his advocacy work and in his ministry, he tries to help clergy take “the Bible seriously, not literally,” by using the Jewish cultural context of the Bible as an entry point to discussing reproductive health from the pulpit. “Jewish theology has always held — and Christian theology adopted this for many centuries — that life begins with the first breath of the fetus, not conception,” he said.

SOURCE: Religion News, by Amethyst Holmes, 4 April 2023

Washington state stockpiles thousands of abortion pills

Washington state officials have stocked up on a key abortion drug in preparation for the possibility that it could become much more difficult to access nationwide, pending the outcome of a federal lawsuit brought by anti-abortion groups.

Gov. Jay Inslee, a Democrat, says he ordered the Washington Department of Corrections to use its pharmacy license to buy 30,000 doses of mifepristone, an estimated three-year supply for patients in Washington state. The pills were received on 31 March.

Several other US states, e.g. California, are doing the same, and it is likely more will follow.

SOURCE: National Public Radio, by Sarah McCammon, 4 April 2023

Post-Roe and women under carceral surveillance

Roe has allowed people to exercise their right to choose when, how, and under what circumstances they decide to become a parent. However, for incarcerated women and pregnant persons, the freedom to exercise that right has always been severely restricted and they have little decision-making power about their bodies, and limited or no access to contraception, abortion services, and pre- and post-natal care.

The recent decision of Dobbs v. Jackson Women’s Health Organization, which eliminated the constitutional right to abortions, galvanized many across the United States to vocalize the dangers of a post-Roe America. Unsurprisingly, women under carceral surveillance were almost non-existent in the conversation. As public health educators and scientists who have worked with and advocated for incarcerated women, we critically question whether Roe was ever enough since the rights granted under it were rarely extended to incarcerated women. We also discuss the impact the Dobbs decision may have on incarcerated women, pregnant people, and women on parole, and highlight that women under carceral surveillance must not be forgotten in the construction of post-Roe laws and policies.

Since 1980, the rate of incarcerated women has increased by more than 400%. Policies such as the war on drugs and the three-strikes law have disproportionally targeted people living in poverty, sex workers, people living with severe mental health conditions, LGBTQ+ communities, and communities of color. Although the Covid-19 pandemic prompted many states to release some incarcerated people, the incarceration rate among women remains high, especially among women of color, with Black and Latinx women being incarcerated at significantly higher rates than their white counterparts (65 per 100,000, 48 per 100,00, and 38 per 100,000, respectively).  The majority of incarcerated women are of reproductive age, and about 80% are mothers. Approximately 58,000 women who are admitted to jails and prisons every year in the United States are pregnant.

In an environment that was designed for men, services specific to women’s health, including abortion care services, are often neglected. In fact, because there is no official standard of reproductive care in correctional facilities, access to abortions and prenatal care are left to the discretion of county governments and jail officials, which in many cases, according to well-documented reports, have sexually abused incarcerated women. Moreover, prison conditions, subpar medical care, and inhumane practices such as solitary confinement and shackling, present severe health consequences for the mother and the fetus. Pregnant incarcerated people are at a higher risk of miscarriage, premature delivery, and worse maternal health outcomes.

SOURCE: Health and Human Rights Journal, by Ira Memaj, Robert E. Fullilove, 13 December 2022 ;
National Partnership for Women & Families & National Birth Equity Collaborative, by Nicolette Wolfrey, 2021